Why Grow Sage in Your Garden?

This Medicinal Herb is a Must-Have in Your Garden or Flower Bed

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

The many health benefits of sage
The many health benefits of sage
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Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a medicinal herb that offers a powerful effect against both viruses and microbes which makes it important in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been used for centuries by herbalists worldwide. The name Salvia comes from the Latin word “salvus” which can be translated as “I save” or “I heal.”

Many plants in your garden perform more than just providing food. Whether you are a prepper or not, you likely grow some of these plants to repel mosquitos, for example. Some herbs, like mint, do double-duty. Sage is primarily medicinal. The Romans were the people who began using sage extensively so it has a long history.

The Medicinal Benefits of Sage

  • A Powerful Disinfectant. A sage decoction (boiling in water to extract the benefits) and gargle to clean your mouth and treat various inflammation of the mouth. Use it externally to treat skin wounds and inflammation. Rub it on or add it to your bath.
  • Sage as an Anti-Inflammatory. It can treat inflamed gums, mouth ulcers, and many other irritations. Chew fresh leaves or make a poultice and apply it to your cold sores on your lips or nose. It’s no wonder that sage is one of the most common ingredients in toothpaste.


  • Use it to Eliminate Indigestion. Do you suffer from indigestion? Like the medicinal herb lemon balm, sage is your friend. Just add it to your line-up of bread baking ingredients or to your cooking.
  • Gallbladder Booster. Adding sage to your daily meals will stimulate the gallbladder.
  • Sage Tea for Cleansing. Some believe that half of a gallon of a mild sage decoction can cleanse your intestinal wall, helps cure polyps, and kills harmful parasites. That’s a lot of curative power. Some believe it is effective as a liver detox method.
  • Cell Protection. Sage can help protect your body’s cells from damage resulting from free radicals due to its high antioxidant capacity. Free radicals often cause cells to die and can lead to impaired immunity and chronic disease. They can be formed either naturally in your body by means of your normal metabolic processes or from external factors like X-rays, cigarette smoke, air pollutants, and exposure to industrial chemicals.


  • Alzheimer’s Treatment. An article in the US National Library of Medicine reports, “In vitro and animal studies have confirmed that several Salvia species contain a large array of active compounds that may enhance cognitive activity and protect against neurodegenerative disease.” It goes on to say, “In this 4-month study, participants allocated to the active-drug condition (60 drops of S. officinalis daily) experienced significantly greater improvements in cognitive function as measured by the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale, and the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale.”
  • Lowers Blood Glucose and Cholesterol. Another article in the US National Library of Medicine reported, “Conclusions: S. officinalis leaves may be safe and have anti-hyperglycemic and lipid profile improving effects in hyperlipidemic type 2 diabetic patients.”

Growing Sage

  • Sage is resistant to both cold and heat; its cold hardy to -30°.
  • It flowers during the summer.
  • Plant it in full sun; it will tolerate partial shade but the flavor will be reduced.
  • Cultivate it in well-drained soil. Sandy loam is preferable but it will grow in average soil too. It prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.7.
  • You can start sage seed indoors as early as 6 to 8 weeks before the average last frost date in your growing zone.
  • Or, sow seed in your garden during late spring after the last frost. Sow seed shallowly, ¼ inch deep.
  • For companion planting, grow sage with chives and calendula, cabbage, carrots, strawberries, and tomatoes. It is believed to deter cabbage-family pests such as imported cabbage worms and root maggot flies. The flowers attract bees and other beneficial insects to your garden. Sage will stunt the growth of cucumbers and has a negative effect on onions.

It’s easy to see why you should grow sage in your garden. Whether you plan to use it for natural medicine, as an ornamental, or for companion planting, it will enhance your property. Always grow organically; what you put in your soil ends up in your body.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Lemon Balm: Uses, Benefits, Growing

A Medicinal Herb That Does Double-Duty as a Pest Control

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Lemon balm next to a tomato plant
Lemon balm next to a tomato plant
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Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a lemon-scented herb that comes from the mint family. It is a perennial and its leaves have a light lemon fragrance. The herb is native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia, but it’s cultivated around the world today. As with many popular herbs, it is highly regarded for its medicinal qualities. But don’t worry, you won’t need a shaman to administer it. Keeping a plant in your garden provides a steady supply of tea.

Here’s another important use — it doesn’t just have to be relegated to your herb garden, it can be planted anywhere because it offers a fringe benefit. In addition to its health properties, it acts as pest control because it repels mosquitos. Hello, outdoor barbeque!

Benefits of Lemon Balm

  • Stress Relief. Lemon balm is said to soothe symptoms of stress, boost your mood, and help you to relax. Just the thing after a day of dealing with proponents of Critical Race Theory. In a study, the National Library of Medicine found that, “The results showed that the 600-mg dose of Melissa ameliorated the negative mood effects of the DISS, with significantly increased self-ratings of calmness and reduced self-ratings of alertness.”1
  • Treating Insomnia. Combining lemon balm with valerian may help alliviate restlessness and sleep disorders such as insomnia. In addition, drinking lemon balm tea can help with disturbing dreams such as Corona Virus dreams.
  • It May Boost Cognitive Function. MDPI.com published a study that concluded, “active lemon balm treatments were generally associated with improvements in mood and/or cognitive performance, though there were some behavioral “costs” at other doses and these effects depended to some degree on the delivery matrix. The results indicate that Lemon balm delivered in foodstuffs can have positive behavioural effects which may be used in applied health settings.”2

  • Healing Cold Sores. According to WebMD.com, “Lemon balm ointments have been found to help heal cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).”3 Using lemon balm cream may help prolong the intervals between cold sore outbreaks.
  • Soothing Digestive Problems. Compounds in lemon balm may help with gastrointestinal problems like bloating and indigestion. Try adding 1 teaspoon (tsp) of lemon balm powder to a bowl of ice cream or smoothie.
  • Help With Menstrual Cramps. A study reported in the US National Library of Medicine concluded that, “the results of the current study showed that M. officinalis capsules were effective to reduce the intensity of PMS symptoms.”4


Health Risks

Although lemon balm is considered safe; the American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook lists lemon balm as a “class 1” herbal product. Some sources recommend limiting it to 3 weeks use, 1 week off. Here are some interactions:

  • HIV Medication. Lemon balm may interact with HIV medications, but sufficient studies have not been conducted.
  • Sedatives and Thyroid Medication. There may be some interaction; consult with your doctor.
  • Glaucoma. Some reports say that lemon balm may increase eye pressure, impacting glaucoma.

Growing Lemon Balm

Plant lemon balm during the warm weather of late spring, once all chances of frost have passed. Space plants 20 to 24 inches apart in an area with partial shade and fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. I only have one plant so spacing is not an issue.

Begin by mixing several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter into your native soil. Check your soil moisture every few days and water when the top inch becomes dry. You’ll be doing your garden a favor if you install and use a foliar feeding with compost juice or Medina Hasta Gro. Harvest the leaves once your plant is 6 to 8 inches tall; avoid harvesting any more than one-third of the plant at a time.

Lemon balm is a must-have plant in your herb garden (in my opinion). For a small purchase price, you will reap a wealth of health benefits. It is so easy to grow, like other members of the mint family, that not green thumb is necessary.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

References

  1. David O. Kennedy, Wendy Little, Andrew B. Scholey, National Library of Medicine, Attenuation of laboratory-induced stress in humans after acute administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm), https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15272110/
  2. Andrew Scholey, et al., MDPI, Anti-Stress Effects of Lemon Balm-Containing Foods, https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/11/4805/htm
  3. WebMD.com, Health Benefits of Lemon Balm, https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-lemon-balm#1
  4. Marzieh Akbarzadeh, US National Library of Medicine, Effect of Melissa officinalis Capsule on the Intensity of Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms in High School Girl Students, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4557408/

6 Plants That Repel Mosquitos

How to Design Your Garden and Landscaping to Get Rid of Pests

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Lemon balm in the garden
Lemon balm in the garden
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Here in South Texas, mosquitos are just a fact of life. They are bad for people; they’re bad for pet dogs and cats, and they’re just pests. Dennis Prager once said when he gets to heaven he’s going to ask God, “Why?” Good point. But, while we have to live with them, we will talk about 6 plants that do a good job of repelling mosquitos whether you are having a barbeque or just enjoying your backyard deck. For best results, stick with an organic feeding program.

  • Lemon balm. As you can see in the picture above, this is a fine-looking plant. This is a member of the mint family that gets its distinct scent from citronellal. This is an oil that has some of the same properties as citronella, one of which is the ability to repel mosquitoes. It’s an easy species to grow. Lemon balm is a perennial (more bang for your buck) that, like mint, can become invasive and take over your whole flower bed or vegetable garden. It likes full sun to part shade and adequate water. The leaves can be used as a tea.
  • Citronella grass. The active ingredient here is the essential oil that’s used to make insect-repellent candles. Be sure you’re planting the tall spiky grass Cymbopogon nardus, and not “citronella plant” (Pelargonium citrosum), which is a kind of geranium that smells similar but doesn’t offer the same mosquito-repelling oils. It likes partial sun and moist, loamy dirt, so water it every day, especially if you’re growing it as a container species. It’s a perennial in tropical climates but it still can be grown as an annual in colder places.


  • Basil. The anecdotal evidence says it helps control mosquitoes but the studies are on-going. If you like pesto but veer away from grocery store prices, keep several basil plants in your garden and prune them regularly to keep them from going to seed. Also, why not whip up some Creamy Parmesan Basil Chicken? Basil thrives in full sun and moist soil.
  • Catnip. The active ingredient here is nepetalactone, the essential oil that gives catnip its smell. It’s also a member of the mint family and grows best in full sun and well-drained soil, but will tolerate partial sun and almost any type of soil if that’s what you are working with.


  • Lavender. Who doesn’t love lavender? Anecdotal evidence and tests on lavender essential oil indicate that mosquitoes shun this plant. Some people dry the flowers and make or buy lavender and cedar sachets to ward off mosquitos and moths. Grow it in full sun and drier soil. You only need to water it once or twice weekly in the growing season. It is a perennial species, so expect it to come back yearly.
  • Peppermint. Yet another member of the wonderful mint family. It’s the essential oil that works the mosquito magic. It is related to the lemon balm and has essentially the same care requirements. It likes lots of sun and water. It does well in a pot; in your flower bed, it will want to take over. I like it in tea and add it to my freshly-ground coffee. What a way to start the day!

So there you have it; 6 plants that repel mosquitos, look good, and serve other purposes. They won’t eliminate these outdoor pests completely but you can certainly cut down on those toxic insecticides.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Endless Crop of Green Onions, Chives

How to Propagate Organic Green Onions, Scallions, and Chives

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Green onions grown from cuttings
Green onions grown from cuttings
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Do you like to use green onions or scallions in your recipes? Do you like them as fresh as they can be? Do you prefer organic produce? Do you like to save money? Are you really big on convenience? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you need this gardening tip! It applies whether your vegetable or herb garden is outside or if you rely on hydroponic gardening for those fresh edibles all year round.

Green Onions, Scallions, and Chives, What’s the Difference?

To begin with, green onions and scallions are the same thing, different name. That one and chives look and taste quite similar, but they are different plants. They have different practical uses as well as different nutritional profiles.

The primary difference from a botanical point of view is that green onions are a vegetable but chives are considered an herb like basil is. Surprisingly, chives also have a higher nutrient profile than green onions do. This makes sense because since herbs in general usually have a denser nutritional content.

Botany can be perplexing and befuddling for us mere mortals. For example, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, or goosefoot) is not in actuality a true cereal grain, but rather a “pseudo-cereal.”



How to Get Your “Free” Produce

You will be amazed at how simple this is! When most people (almost all, actually) cut off the root section, they throw it in the trash; they don’t even compost vegetable scraps including these gems. Composting is important, especially if you are a prepper, homesteader, or just living off the grid.

So, here’s the process. Cut off the root section as usual, leaving about 1/2 inch of the bulb on it. Plant it, root section down, about 2 inches deep. As you can see from the picture at the top of this article, a simple ceramic pot works for my needs. Yes, I’m ready to put some fresh hardwood mulch in there. A top-dressing of compost periodically is a good idea. The idea is to harvest the biggest one, plant its root section; it’s a two-minute operation, easy-peasy. Water daily. Check out the size of my home-grown organic scallion (I’m making Panamanian-style ceviche today).

A huge, home-grown organic green onion, or scallion
A huge, home-grown organic green onion, or scallion


Well, that’s just about all there is to generating and enjoying an endless crop of green onions (scallions) and chives. Do it in your herb garden, kitchen window, or hydroponically. It’s all good in the culinary universe.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Valentine’s Day Outdoor Space Ideas

Romantic Gestures That Keep on Giving (Unlike Cut Flowers)

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
Lilies blooming in the flower bed
Lilies blooming in the flower bed
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Valentine’s Day is a perfect example of a holiday that inspires us to redesign spaces inside and outside our homes. Designing an outdoor space for a Valentine’s Day gift or parties and celebrations can be a lasting surprise for someone that you care about pleasing. Many gardeners remind us that Valentine’s Day is the time to trim our rose bushes so that choice makes perfect sense.

Any climate-appropriate plants are a great way to improve the look of your yard, flower bed, garden, or outdoor living space. Here are a few plant, seating, and lighting ideas that can help you design the space of your dreams at this time of year when nature is just busting out. Just think of it as the opportunity to tackle that list of new year’s DIY projects!

Choosing the Perfect Flower

Almost every woman that I’ve ever met loves to get flowers on Valentine’s Day, and some would far rather receive something living that will bloom on more than just that one day. After all, why limit yourself to a wilting bouquet when you can have cut flowers on a regular basis?



Many of us don’t mind caring for the flower or floral arrangement minimally, either, especially during the mild spring and fall months. Annuals, such as the coriopsis below, are very hardy and come back year after year once established. Our bird friends help to distribute the thistle seeds so keep those bird feeders full.

Coriopsis flowers in full bloom
Coriopsis flowers in full bloom

It goes without saying that the perfect flower species should be designed to suit your climate, sunlight requirements, and of course, soil conditions. If you are unsure of this type of information, talk to someone in a garden center, nursery, or plant retailer for more details. If your community is lucky enough to have a Master Gardener group, they are very knowledgeable about local plants and are generally very free with their information. Most even conduct indigenous plant and tree sales in the spring.

One useful tip is to find out her favorite color, and keep in mind how much time and energy will need to be devoted to caring for the plant. Design your outdoor Valentine’s Day surprise with this basic information in mind, so that you can be sure that your significant other will appreciate what you have created.

Find accents and accessories for the space in the favorite color if you cannot find in-season plants that are blooming for this special occasion, such as lighting, flags, decorations, water features (ponds, fountains), and similar items designed for outdoor use. These all are animal-friendly and count towards your nature-conservation efforts.

Choosing Outdoor Seating Arrangements

If the space is large enough, why not consider adding seating to your outdoor space to create the romantic environment this day is known for inspiring.

A great garden bench is a wonderful idea, so that two can sit comfortably, but be sure that any seating arrangement you choose is intended for use outdoors, including fabric choices. Marketing claims are not always what they seem. If you have a homeowners association, check to ensure that your project falls under their (often unreasonable) guidelines. A garden bench with storage such as the one shown below, doubles as a spot to keep your gardening tools.

High-quality and functional furniture will ensure that your gift lasts much longer, and the durable and beautiful addition will add monetary and aesthetic value to your home. We can’t say enough about home equity, can we?

Your seating needs to strike a balance; make it comfortable without presenting health risks. Select fabrics that are specifically designed and treated for outdoor use, so that the fabric does not mildew or mold after the first hint of condensation or dew.



Choosing Exterior Lighting

You may or may not be spending a significant amount of time in your space outdoors after the sun sets, but adding exterior lighting changes that parameter and gives you that opportunity should you desire to sit, entertain, and relax after the sun has gone down. A simple lantern, LED spotlight, or a couple of Tiki torches for the space is ideal for most arrangements.

The right combination and choice of illumination will add that perfect touch of light for a romantic rendezvous, this Valentine’s Day and into the foreseeable future. Certain lighting resembles candlelight, which is the most popular lighting for romance, so you can’t go wrong with a hint of light that doesn’t cost you an abundance of time, energy, or money to purchase or install.

Finally, if you really want to go big when you consider Valentine’s Day outdoor space ideas, think about a relaxing backyard deck. Springtime and income tax returns are coming; hint, hint.

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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

8 Benefits of Hibiscus Tea

And How to Grow Hibiscus for Tea at Home

by Kelly R. Smith

Dried hibiscus flowers for healthy tea
Dried hibiscus flowers for healthy tea
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Hibiscus tea (sometimes called “sour tea”) might not be so well known in the USA but it certainly is in other parts of the world. I’ve been drinking it for a few years now, both for the taste and the health benefits; it’s another item in my toolbox to keep my blood pressure in a reasonable range.. I add it to the grounds of my cold brew coffee maker, sometimes with fresh mint from my garden. Yeah, I know; wild, living on the edge. There are several hundred species of hibiscus plants that vary by the location and climate they are grown in, but Hibiscus sabdariffa or roselles is most commonly used to make hibiscus tea. As a bonus, they are stunning in tropical landscape plantings. But we are here to talk about the health benefits of hibiscus tea.

Health Benefits of Hibiscus Tea

  • It lowers blood pressure. This is a big one for me. All blood pressure medications have side effects. For me, I take lisinopril, an ACE inhibitor. It causes coughing and the feeling of being lethargic. Rebekah Edwards says, “A 2013 review by the University of Arizona discovered that hibiscus tea is used in 10 or more countries as a normal hypertension treatment without any reported adverse events or side effects — except in extremely high doses.”1
  • It’s packed with antioxidants. What are antioxidants? They are molecules that help fight compounds we call free radicals, which inflict damage to your cells. The National Library of medicine noting their study says, “Hibiscus anthocyanin extract has reducing power that is approximately 2-fold that of the synthetic antioxidant, butylated hydroanisole.”2 Other than hibiscus, many other foods contain them; tart cherries are a good example.


  • It supports healthy cholesterol and triglycerides. Dyslipidemia is a type of disorder that is characterized by noticeable changes in plasma lipids or lipoproteins, including two you are probably familiar with: cholesterol and triglycerides. As with blood pressure, hibiscus tea’s ability to reduce high “blood lipids” also extends to those with diabetes. A 2009 study had diabetes patients drink hibiscus tea two times a day for a full month and they found a significant increase in HDL (good) cholesterol and a marked decrease in total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • It may help to lower blood fat levels. The National Library of medicine citing a study of sour tea (ST) and black tea (BT) says, “The results of the present study showed that ST has a significant effect on blood lipid profile in patients with diabetes.”3 Many studies have shown that hibiscus tea reduces blood cholesterol and triglycerides in people suffering from diabetes and metabolic syndrome. That said, other studies have shown conflicting results. Obviously, more research is needed in the general population.
  • It prevents oxidative stress. Like most healthy teas on the market, hibiscus is chock full of antioxidants that combat free radical damage caused by substandard nutrient diets and frequent exposure to dangerous chemicals. These antioxidants are found primarily in the anthocyanins of the plant, the natural pigments that give this flower its brilliant red color.
  • It may boost liver health. Your liver is essential to your overall health. Some of its jobs include producing proteins, secreting bile, and breaking down fat. One small human research study found that supplementing with hibiscus tea raised the antioxidant load in the bloodstream as well as reducing compounds that contribute to oxidative stress that damages cells.
  • It shows promise in fighting certain cancers. Although this idea is only starting to gain traction, there is already some evidence to support hibiscus tea’s anticancer power. It has been shown that hibiscus extracts cause apoptosis, or cell death, in leukemia cells. Although the exact mechanisms behind this aren’t clear as of yet, this could be a promising step in the ever-going fight against leukemia, which affects about a quarter of the children and adolescents currently struggling with cancer.
  • It reduces obesity and related risks. How? Human and animal studies have found a link between hibiscus tea and an elevated metabolism. Hibiscus extract may even inhibit you from absorbing as much starch and sucrose as you might from a typical meal. One study in particular gave 36 overweight participants either hibiscus extract or a placebo. After 12 weeks, hibiscus extract reduced body weight, body fat, body mass index and hip-to-waist ratio


Growing and Preparing Hibiscus for Tea at Home

Test your soil pH in a well-draining area that receives full sun at least six months before planting if possible, and, if needed, amend it using elemental sulfur or dolomitic lime to adjust the pH to between 6.1 and 7.8. The do best in humus-rich soil and full sunlight.

Harvest your flowers after they have bloomed. You want the calyxes (the main body of the flower). They should snap right off. Once you have your harvest, complete the steps to prepare and dry them. This video explains it in detail.

How to process hibiscus flowers for tea

Can you benefit from hibiscus tea? Of course! There’s something for everybody and if you grow your own supply you will save money and be certain it is organic.

Others are Reading

Reference

  1. .Rachael Link, Dr. Axe, Hibiscus Tea: The Antioxidant ‘Therapeutic Agent’ You Should Be Drinking, https://draxe.com/nutrition/hibiscus-tea/
  2. Taofeek O Ajiboye, et al, National Library of medicine, Antioxidant and drug detoxification potentials of Hibiscus sabdariffa anthocyanin extract, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21314460/
  3. Hassan Mozaffari-Khosravi, et al., National Library of medicine, Effects of sour tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa) on lipid profile and lipoproteins in patients with type II diabetes, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19678781/


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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Easy Homemade Mac and Cheese Recipe

Comfort Food Your Kids Will Eat

by Kelly R. Smith

Homemade mac and cheese comfort food
Homemade mac and cheese comfort food
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This Homemade mac and cheese is one of the favorite comfort foods in our humble abode, right up there with my ranch dressing cheeseburger. Even picky kids love it so you can slip in some vegetables if you like (hint, hint). It takes a little longer to make than that boxed stuff, but you have to ask, what is that yellow powder anyway? Soylent yellow? As with all recipes, I use as much organic ingredients as possible, and out of my own garden when possible.

Mac and Cheese Ingredients

  • 1 lb. rigatoni or the pasta shape of your choice. I like whole wheat but hey, you’ve got to get the kids to eat it, right?
  • Organic butter for your baking dish
  • 2 cups Half-and-Half
  • 1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2” squares or shredded
  • Kosher or pink salt to taste
  • Freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • 2 cups of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if you can find it + a hand-full; I sometimes substitute shredded Swiss for the Reggiano
  • 7 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 35 organic basil leaves, cut into strips, more or less according to your taste. This is just one more reason to keep an organic spice garden. If you don’t have, or can’t find, fresh basil, use basil paste.
Fresh organic basil leaves
Fresh organic basil leaves


Preparation

  1. Cook your pasta to al dente texture.
  2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Drain your pasta and rub organic butter liberally in a 9” X 13” Pyrex® baking dish and add the pasta.
  4. In a saucepan, combine the mozzarella, 2 cups of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Half-and-Half.
  5. Simmer, stirring often, until it’s a nice gooey mess!
  6. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Salt with caution if you have high blood pressure.
  7. Turn off the heat; stir in the tomatoes and basil.
  8. Pour the mixture all over the pasta and mix it in.
  9. Top with the hand-full of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  10. Bake for 18 minutes, spoon it out, and enjoy!.


One of the things I like about this recipe is the fact that there a multitude of different ways to modify your ingredients, depending on the whims of you and your family. For example, how about changing up your cheese? Adding blue cheese will give the dish a funky edge that goes well with a red wine. The shape of the pasta? Adding in your favorite spices? It’s your call with this easy homemade mac and cheese recipe.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Grow Your Own Orange Tree, Harvest Citrus Fruit

When Life Gives You Oranges, Make Orange Juice!

by Kelly R. Smith

Making fresh orange juice
Making fresh orange juice
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This article was updated on 12/31/20.

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When my daughter Shannon was very young, she had an appetite for oranges that the local grocery store markets as “cuties.” In reality, they are a type of Mandarin orange. Just easy to peel. This caused me to embark on a journey to plant one fruit tree each year. Year one was that Mandarin orange tree, planted in the back yard.

The next year it was a Republic of Texas orange tree (pictured below). In the photo above, you might notice that the rinds darkened a bit from a slight freeze, but the insides remain fine. This tree bears fruit in the summer and by early December it’s ready for picking. No rush though; the fruit will hang there in suspended animation for months.



Choosing Your Fruit Trees

Many people make the mistake of seeing a tree at Walmart, Home Depot, or some other big box store, buying it, planting it, and then wondering why they never get any fruit. Well, it’s because these trees are sold irrespective of customer location. What works in upstate New York does not work here in south Texas. It is all about the growing zone — how freeze-tolerant the tree is. For example, consider the avocado tree. It is a southern tree but some species do well in moderate freezes.

Republic of Texas orange tree
Republic of Texas orange tree

The best bet is to go to a local nursery, after you do your initial research. They have a vested interest in the community and will likely want to keep a customer base. There are other resources to consider. Here, we have Randy Lemon, graduate of Texas A&M, who does a local radio show. I’ve listened to his weekend show for years and I have to admit, I wasn’t totally onboard initially because he poo-pooed organic, but now that his advertisers have began offering organic products, it’s all good. Imagine.

The bottom line here (I know you’ve been waiting for it) is that it is always a good time to put in your own fruit trees. You might be a prepper or not. You might trust organic produce at the grocery store or not. You might just want to save money. Regardless, there is a lot to be said for self-sufficiency. And, if you’ve got the real estate, why not?

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

10 Signs of Nutrient Deficiency

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Foods that fight nutrient deficiency
Foods that fight nutrient deficiency

Many of us eat fast food or whatever is at hand because of the fast-paced lives we live. You might say to yourself, “I take a multivitamin; I’m good.” That is not always true. Supplements, at least high-quality ones, are not bad in themselves despite what some say. Some manufacturers are indeed mountebanks but not all. Additionally, not getting enough fiber can mean a short-circuiting on nutrient absorption. Living in the Coronavirus lock-down surely doesn’t help. If you have any of these signs of nutrient deficiency, it’s prudent to turn things around. Here are some signs.

Signals From Your Body Regarding Nutrient Uptake

  • You are developing a pale, sallow complexion. The problem may be iron deficiency. This makes for smaller red blood cells. Not only does it mean you produce fewer of them but they are filled with less hemoglobin. Hence, your skin looks less red. The American Society of Hematology says, “Iron is very important in maintaining many body functions, including the production of hemoglobin, the molecule in your blood that carries oxygen. Iron is also necessary to maintain healthy cells, skin, hair, and nails.” The solution? Boost your intake of dark leafy greens, grass-fed beef, lentils, and fortified cereals and breads.
  • You have stubborn acne. In the past this has been blamed on certain foods like chocolate and one of our favorites, commercial or homemade pizza. We now understand it a bit better. The lack of enough omega-3 fatty acids may be the culprit; they have strong anti-inflammatory properties. So if you are lacking, it can present as acne. The solution? Pick up some fish oil capsules and eat more salmon.
  • You Have Brittle Nails. If your fingernails have been breaking easily and often, it might be due to a lack of biotin, also known as vitamin B7, which nourishes your nail’s growth plates. The solution? Supplements are a good way to go. I take what is called on the bottle Super B-Complex, which contains 1,000 mcg which is equal to 3,333% of daily value. This is not an issue because it’s a water-soluble vitamin. Also, eat more eat more eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, fish, organ meats, and vegetables such as cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
  • Your skin is parched and dry. You can blame this one on an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency. In this case, they help nourish your skin’s lipid barrier. This is the layer of oils that act as a gatekeeper to keep harmful germs and toxins out and essential moisture in. This deficiency can also manifest in more wrinkles and visible aging due to skin dehydration, ladies.
  • Lips that are sore and cracked. This can be the result of an iron deficiency and/or a riboflavin (vitamin B2) deficiency. The National Institutes of Health says, “The signs and symptoms of riboflavin deficiency (also known as ariboflavinosis) include skin disorders, hyperemia (excess blood) and edema of the mouth and throat, angular stomatitis (lesions at the corners of the mouth), cheilosis (swollen, cracked lips), hair loss, reproductive problems, sore throat, itchy and red eyes, and degeneration of the liver and nervous system.” Suffice to say I don’t want this one. The solution? Once again, a B-Complex vitamin should do the trick.
  • You have a wound that resists healing. If you are reading this, you know as an individual how long it takes your body to deal with cuts and scrapes. If it seems to be taking too long, you might have an iron deficiency. As a rule, shoot for 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal and 10 to 15 grams of protein with each snack. Mind you, this is harder to do if you are a vegan but it’s not impossible. Peanut butter and other legumes are good. Carnivores are less likely to have this issue. Protein drinks are also readily available. I’m partial to favorites like this beef Stroganoff recipe that I make from time to time.
  • Are you experiencing bleeding gums? Usually this signifies that one is a bit derelict in flossing and brushing. But if this is not you, a vitamin K deficiency might be at the root (so to speak; pardon the pun) of your problem. It has a big role in role in helping blood clot, or coagulate. The solution? Look for vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) mainly in leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. Vitamin K2 (menaquinone) is actually bacteria produced your gut. It is also available in fermented foods, cheese, natto, meat, dairy, and eggs, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Your hair is thinning. Your hair can be a mirror of what you eat. Protein and vitamin C deficiencies have been known to cause thinning or brittle hair as well as hair that falls out easily. Vitamin C assists you in making collagen, one of the building blocks of healthy hair and healthy hair follicles. Protein supplies amino acids destined for collagen (and other protein) synthesis.
  • Your nails are misshapen or discolored. If your iron levels are low, this can result in whitened or ridged nails. A vitamin B12 deficiency can make your nails turn brownish. A lack of biotin increases your risk of fungal infections that, in turn, can manifest as ridging and discoloration.
  • Premature graying of the hair. Going gray early can be caused by many things — genetics, some say worry, and the jury is still out on getting a fright. But we are concerned here with nutrition. The mineral copper helps you create melanin which is one pigment, among others, that imparts color to your hair. If you have low copper levels, or an underlying medical issue which stops you from metabolizing copper you ingest properly, this can turn your hair gray. Which I must say, I find downright fetching on most women although they likely disagree.

The bottom line here is that each sign of nutrient deficiency is linked to primary vitamins and minerals, but in reality, they’re all a “soup” in which all have a role. The best course of action is a well-rounded diet accompanied by high-quality nutritional supplements. As a caveat, if you can’t clear something up in short order, consult with your primary care physician.

References:



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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Black Rifle Coffee: A Product Review

High-Quality, Small-Batch Coffee Beans From Veterans

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Black Rifle Coffee and destruction on auto. Yeah.
Black Rifle Coffee and destruction on auto. Yeah.
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This article was updated on 03/26/21.

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We have all gone through a lot after the COVID-19 lockdown. Not a lot of us are hitting up Starbucks on the way to the daily grind. Hey, we’re working at home in our PJ’s. But we still need out caffeine fix. Starbucks for me? No. I have Black Rifle Coffee Beans delivered twice a month.

Once a month used to do me right but since the Corona virus lockdown, my wife is working from home and coffee consumption has doubled. So… I went from once a month delivery to two. Is it expensive? Hmm. Not cheap but when you commit to being in the delivery “club” shipping is free. All that’s left is brewing the perfect cup of coffee.

How Good is Black Rifle Coffee?

I would say, “exceptional” but you want more details, yes? OK, they start with the best beans. Then, they don’t roast until they are getting your stuff together. That stuff on the shelf at the grocery store? How long was it sitting? How long before it was roasted and ground? Belay that; this discerning coffee-fiend only uses whole beans. I am not adverse to adding some mint from my garden.

Now that you have the beans you have to use your coffee bean grinder. Most people buy already-ground coffee but I do not for two reasons:

  1. As soon as coffee beans are roasted they start releasing carbon dioxide and begin to slowly decay. The chemicals begin to transform and the cell structure of the bean starts to fall apart, and the best flavors of the beans start to become bitter and dull, rather like life during the pandemic. Grinding the beans accelerates the process.
  2. There are ground-up bugs in that can of pre-ground coffee you bought the other day. The FDA only gets concerned if more than 10 percent or more of green coffee beans are affected. Regarding “Insect filth and insects” the FDA Handbook says, “Average 10% or more by count are insect-infested or insect-damaged.” When I pour those whole beans into the grinder I can verify non-buginess.

Types of Coffee

They offer whole-bean, ground, instant, rounds (pods), canned, and bags (Just Black Cold Brew Packs). Something for everybody. There is more evidence accumulating all the time of the coffee’s health benefits. So pick your favorites and enjoy. The coffee brews are:

  • Light roast: Silencer Smooth, Gunship
  • Medium roast: Just Black Cold Brew Packs, Liberty Roast, Caf Coffee Roast, BRCC Instant, Thin Blue Line, AK-47 Espresso Blend, Five Alarm, Just Black
  • Dark Roast: Freedom Fuel, Blackbeard’s Delight, Beyond Black
  • Extra dark: Murdered Out (this is the one I brew up for myself and She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed every morning and afternoon). It’s a good habit.

You might notice a theme in both the name of the company and the names of the products. That’s because this is a veteran-owned and operated company. I have to give Black Rifle Coffee high marks — 10 out of 10. Their brew is as good as I’ve ever swilled and their delivery is always on time. The beans are always roasted in small batches unlike the big industrial operations. The video below explains how they are handling the CoronaVirus situation.

References

Further Reading



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.